Public Comment

An Open Letter to Berkeley's Council About the Housing Crisis and the Mayor's Proposals

Charlene M. Woodcock
Friday April 01, 2016 - 02:39:00 PM

Dear Mayor Bates and Members of the Berkeley City Council,

There are solutions to Berkeley’s housing crisis, our urgent need for housing for families and low income Berkeley residents, but they won’t be achieved by pandering to for-profit developers, as the mayor and council majority have been doing in recent years. By encouraging 4- to 6-story apartments or condominiums all over central Berkeley and along San Pablo and soon Adeline, we’re gaining cheaply-built, ill-designed, and high-priced housing that does not serve the needs of Berkeley residents. We are fast losing the diversity, both racial and cultural, that our city has prized until the current administration.

It’s past time for the city council to work out a plan to reverse this process and begin to serve our needs, not developers’ profits. 

We need to reactivate the Housing Trust Fund so it can be put to use. The Berkeley Progressive Alliance calculates that $10 million a year would allow for 100 units of low-income housing to be built each year and it can be found by requiring developers to pay the NEXUS-recommended $34,000 per unit as an in-lieu fee if they don’t include at least 20% low-income in a project. It is outrageous that when land is so scarce and Berkeley has so many advantages as a city, the current mayor and council have radically discounted this fee. This is a huge disservice to Berkeley taxpayers and residents and all those who are being squeezed as the new buildings raise the rental rates all across town to unprecedented levels. 

Secondly, it’s time to acknowledge that the large landlords in Berkeley are making unprecedented profits and their business license tax should be increased, especially since the effect of all the new buildings has been to increase rental rates, not provide housing to those who need it most. 

Other sources of money for the Housing Trust Fund are a portion of the Property Transfer Tax and a needed tax on Air BNB and other short-term rentals. Owners, some of them not Berkeley residents, are raking in big profits while taking rental properties off the market. This does not serve our city’s residents. 

The mayor’s proposal to fast-track new developments and eliminate public input is an outrageous attack on democracy in our city. We have much more right to review and assess new construction projects in our city than the for-profit developers who’re making windfall profits here.